A long-planned dam on the Tigris River, just upstream from Eski Mosul (Balad) in Iraq was built between 1981 and 1985. As with the Hamrin and Haditha Dam Salvage Projects, Iraqi and foreign expeditions cooperated in investigating the sites to be flooded in the Eski Mosul Dam Salvage Project (later called the Saddam Dam Basin Salvage Project).

The major crossings of the Tigris River are outside the area of the project at Nineveh, Balad (Eski Mosul), and Cizre, but the Tigris can be readily crossed when it is not in flood and routes cross the region at Abu Dhahir and at Zummar. In general, however, the main routes avoid the broken terrain beside the river and follow courses outside the area. The main road north from Nineveh skirted the southeastern part of the area of the project, however.

The geomorphology of the region has not been adequately investigated, but excavations at sites such as Tell Kutan and Kharabeh Shattani showed that there has been considerable erosion and deposition. After rainstorms, the wadis were very active. It would be unwise to infer that the present topography closely resembles the ancient, but it is likely that in general the environment has not changed greatly since prehistoric times. Beside the river was a narrow floodpain bordered by rolling hills, often with the bedrock emerging: indeed, the area had been used as a quarry. The region is cut by a series of wadis draining into the Tigris. Most of these are dry for most of the year, but the Baqaq stream is perennial. The annual rainfall is about 450 mm and, where the soils were suitable, it was possible to practice dry farming. There is evidence for small canals, particularly along the Baqaq stream, that seem to be associated with a series of water mills of fairly recent date rather than with irrigation.

The top of the dam is 317.5 m above mean sea level and about 435 sq km (270 sq. mi.) is to be flooded. The lake extends about 70 km (43 mi.) upstream, as far as the Syrian border, and covers a ribbon of land which at its widest point is fewer than 8 km (5 mi.) from the old river course. In the original survey of the area by the Iraqi State Organization for Antiquities and Heritage, 149 sites were identified. There were only a few large sites: the most impressive (550 × 300 m) was Tell Jikan (Jigan), where Victor Place had excavated briefly in the nineteenth century; also impressive were Tell Selal and Tell Abu Dhahir, which also covered several hectares. These major sites were situated where wadis and relatively easy routes reached the Tigris and where the immediate terrain was quite flat and suitable for agriculture. Most of the sites in the region were small and occupied for limited periods. Some sixty-three sites were excavated in the course of the project, including twenty-one not located in the original survey. Most of the excavated sites were situated in the southeastern part of the area and along the south side of the river. For security reasons, only a few sites were investigated farther upstream on the north side of the river.

The Iraqi State Organization for Antiquities and Heritage excavated some twenty-three sites. The University of Mosul excavated four important sites on the south side of the river, Abu Dhahir, Mseifneh, Tell Dhuwaij, and Tell Selal. British teams from the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, the British Museum, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Manchester worked on some fifteen sites, mostly in the southeastern part of the area and in the region near Abu Dhahir. Japanese archaeologists from Kokushikan University worked on seven sites near Jikan and near Zummar. A Polish team excavated sites near Rifan Ulya and at the Aceramic Neolithic site of Nemrik. In addition, Austrian, French, German, German/Italian, Italian, and Russian teams worked on a smaller number of sites.

A Polish survey in the region of Rifan identified some twenty-two locations where Lower Paleolithic tools were found; sixty Middle Paleolithic and twenty-three Upper Paleolithic tools also were recovered. Hand axes were occasionally found elsewhere in the project area. Two Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites were excavated. At Nemrik, which lies just above the area to be flooded, semisunken round houses with tauf (Ar., similar to terre pisé) and mud-brick walls were found. At Der Hall, an aceramic level was found, but the artifacts were not in situ.

Five Hassuna sites were excavated. The Hassuna remains at Tell Abu Dhahir could be traced over an area of about 2 ha (5 acres). At Kharabeh Shattani, the Hassuna level was covered by a compacted silty layer 1.2 m thick, on which a Halaf settlement was built. Only one site was excavated for which Samarra pottery has been published, but as many as nine sites were excavated with Halaf pottery. At Kharabeh Shattani several round houses (tholoi) were uncovered. At Khirbet Derak a series of bullae with stamp-seal impressions on them were found. At Derak and at Khirbeh Hatareh there was evidence for a gradual transition from the Halaf to the Ubaid pottery style, with intermediate types being recognized. Some eight sites with Ubaid pottery were excavated. No substantial architecture of the period has been published.

Early Uruk or Gawra period occupations were identified on four sites. At Tell Mishrifeh houses with possibly tripartite plans and at Tell Karraneh 1 and 2 megaron-type buildings like those from Tepe Gawra levels IX–XI were found. The impression given by the results of the investigations in the Eski Mosul Dam Salvage Project strongly supports the view that the Gawra period precedes the Late Uruk period. It has been suggested that two rival cultures coexisted in northern Mesopotamia; a local one typified by Gawra and a second heavily influenced by the southern Uruk civilization represented by level IV at Nineveh. This southern-influenced culture was thought to have formed an elite dominating the local culture. The idea, however, receives no support from the excavations in the Eski Mosul region.

Local Late Uruk occupations characterized by beveledrim bowls, incised jars, and spouted vessels, for example, were found on some eight sites. Excavations at a number of sites, particularly at Tell Mohammed Arab, have elucidated the sequence from the Late Uruk to the Ninevite 5 period and have resolved some of the long-standing problems of ceramic development in this period. A gradual transformation from the painted Uruk pottery to the painted Ninevite 5 and from the fineware Uruk vessels to the Ninevite 5 could be shown. The gradual introduction and development of incised gray ware and excised gray ware were demonstrated by the stratigraphic excavation at Tell Mohammed Arab and by a comparison with assemblages from shorter-lived sites. Also for the first time, an exposure of architecture revealed that small two-room rectangular dwellings were the norm in the Ninevite 5 period. Some nineteen sites with Ninevite 5 levels were excavated. Most of these occupations were small and were not long-lived. Thus, although the number of sites was large, the population in any one period could have been quite small. It should be noted that Painted Ninevite 5 pottery was found in widely separated soundings on Tell Jikan, suggesting that an extensive area, perhaps as much as 15 ha (37 acres), was occupied in this period.

The fine decorated gray ware of the Ninevite 5 period appears to have been the forerunner of the distinctive hard fineware of the Taya period. The transition from one to the other has not been found in excavations to date, and there seem to be important changes that occurred with the introduction of this new style. In particular, at Tell Jikan the construction of the city wall was associated with this new style. Similar indications of urbanization have been found elsewhere in northern Iraq and in the Khabur region in this period. At Tell Karraneh 1 an interesting group of six terracotta objects was recovered, five shaped like phalli and the sixth with a molded stylized human head. In the Eski Mosul Dam Salvage Project, nine sites of this period were excavated, which corresponds roughly to the Akkadian and Ur III periods in the south.

The largest number of sites excavated (twenty-two) belonged to the Khabur period. On many of these, areas of housing consisting of large buildings with many rectangular rooms were excavated. Nuzi ware was recovered at about a dozen sites, but for the most part these were occasional sherds and did not form a large proportion of the pottery assemblage.

A similar number of sites belonging to the Middle Assyrian period was excavated. Tell Mohammed Arab provided a good sequence of pottery and associated buildings. At this site a characteristic plan of a rectangular building with one large rectangular room and three or four smaller squarish rooms was identified.

Expectations that important Late Assyrian remains would be found were high, as inscribed bricks of Sargon II had been published as coming from Jikan; it was also speculated that Jikan might have been ancient Kurbail. Further research showed that the bricks in question came from Khorsabad, and excavations at Jikan failed to reveal substantial buildings of the Late Assyrian period. At Tell Baqaq 2, beside the main road leading north, however, the remains of a small palace were found. It included several courtyards, a throne room with stone tramlines, (parallel lines of stone paving, commonly found in the throne rooms of Assyrian palaces, perhaps used for a brazier on wheels), a bathroom, and a few cuneiform tablets dated to about 800 BCE. At Khatuniyeh, the vivid remains of the site's destruction, presumably at or near the time of the destruction of Nineveh, were revealed. About a dozen other sites with less substantial remains of the period were excavated, but it does not seem to have been a time of particular prosperity in the region. It seems probable that in the Late Assyrian period arable farming was concentrated on the more fertile plains of northern Mesopotamia, and that areas such as that of the Eski Mosul region were used for animal husbandry, perhaps including horse rearing.

Following the destruction of Nineveh it is uncertain whether northern Iraq was under the control of the Medes, the Babylonians, or neither. In the second half of the sixth century BCE it became part of the extensive empire of the Persian king Cyrus, but details of the history of northern Iraq under the Achaemenids are not known. It was, therefore, surprising to find an extensive (but shallow) site at Khirbet Qasrij of the sixth or fifth centuries BCE with evidence for industrial activities, though Xenophon (Aṇabasis) mentioned extensive settlements when the ten thousand (the Greek mercenaries) retreated through this area at the end of the fifth century BCE.

In the Hellenistic period, perhaps with the revival of political stability, there were numerous relatively rich agricultural villages in the area. Apart from the pottery, which included fish plates with stamped palmettes, the most characteristic feature of these settlements was the number of deep bell-shaped grain silos dug into the ground. A small building (18 × 5.5 m) at Tell Deir Situn has been interpreted as a police post or waystation close to the main route from Nineveh leading north.

Parthian remains were identified at a few sites, but it was not clear how Parthian sites were distinguished from Hellenistic—and indeed the reports on many sites combined the two periods. In the early centuries of the first millennium CE, this region at times lay on the borders between the empires of Rome and Iran. The site of Seh Qubba may have been an outpost of Roman rule on the west bank of the Tigris, and traces of a mosaic floor were found. The site stayed in use in the Sasanian period; the walls of the city, which encircle an area of more than 100 hectares (247 acres), may have been built then.

The Sasanian period was recognized at about ten sites. The only site with substantial architectural remains was at Mseifneh, where a monastery with a fine basilican church constructed from worked stone was uncovered. This building may have been constructed in the fifth century CE; it remained in use (though perhaps not as a Christian religious building) until the Il-Khanid period. A cemetery at Tell Mohammed Arab provided evidence for the burial customs of the period. Most of the inhumations lacked funeral offerings, but a few were plentifully supplied with jewelry (e.g., beads, seals, earrings, rings, bracelets) and with glass bottles that may have held perfume.

As might be expected, almost half the sites excavated had remains from the Islamic period. Sometimes these were a few burials, but some sites had substantial buildings. At Tell Khirbet Saleh a stone and mortar structure with columns was interpreted as a heathen temple built in the ῾Abbasid period. At Deir Situn a church was dated to the thirteenth century, but fragmentary architectural remains may belong to an earlier church, perhaps originally constructed in the Sasanian period. At Mishrifeh village, a khan built in the ῾Abbasid period remained in use until the Il-Khanid period. At Tell Baqaq 3, another khan in use in the Il-Khanid period was found. At Kharabok a large courtyard building constructed in the ῾Abbasid period was rebuilt in the Il-Khanid period, when an elaborate water system was installed. Tell Selal had substantial fortifications from the Middle Islamic period.

The project area has no natural boundaries and is divided by the Tigris River and the wadis flowing into it. The majority of sites in the project were small and occupied for short periods. One consequence of this is that only very few cuneiform tablets were recovered: two Middle Assyrian tablets from Tell Madhhur, two Late Assyrian tablets from Tell Baqaq 2, and a curious hemerological tablet (tablets that list activities to be done on different days of the month) from a Hellenistic pit at Tell Fisna. These do not contribute greatly to a deeper understanding of the history of the region. The archaeological results, however, were extremely interesting: in particular, the elucidation of the chronology of the Late Uruk and Ninevite 5 periods is of importance for the whole of northern Mesopotamia.


For preliminary reports on the sites excavated in the Eski Mosul Dam Salvage Project, see the following: Robert Killick and Michael Roaf, comps., “Excavations in Iraq, 1981–82,” Iraq 45 (1983): 207–220; Robert Killick and James Black, comps., “Excavations in Iraq, 1983–84,” Iraq 47 (1985): 227–239; W. Ball and James Black, comps., “Excavations in Iraq, 1985–86,” Iraq 49 (1987): 234–250. The State Organization of Antiquities and Heritage has published Researches on the Antiquities of Saddam Dam Basin Salvage and Other Researches (Baghdad, 1987), a special volume containing reports on many of the excavated sites. New information about the Ninevite 5 period is summarized by Michael Roaf and Robert Killick in “A Mysterious Affair of Styles: The Ninevite 5 Pottery of Northern Mesopotamia,” Iraq 49 (1987): 199–230. The same period is given comprehensive treatment in The Origins of North Mesopotamian Civilization: Ninevite 5 Chronology, Economy, Society, edited by Harvey Weiss (in press), based on proceedings of a conference held at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 15–19 December 1988. Evidence for settlement in the Zummar region is discussed in W. Ball, ed., Ancient Settlement in the Zummar Region: Excavations by the British Archaeological Expedition to Iraq in the Saddam Dam Salvage Project, 1985–86 (in press).

Michael Roaf